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Trump: "Perfect Accuracy" Too Much to Expect from White House; Did Trump Obstruct Justice by Firing Comey; Trump Attorneys: No Russian Money with "Few Exceptions"; President/First Lady Speak at Military Mother's Day Event; Sessions to Prosecutes: Am for Harshest Sentence. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired May 12, 2017 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:00] MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: And to Gloria's point, the fact that you have this huge credibility problem and, as Mark said, all of these things going on in the world. I mean, clearly, from the interview with Lester Holt, Trump is still obsessed with this Russia controversy, because he thinks it has to do with the legitimacy of his election, and that is what he is thinking about and talking about all the time, with people who he meets with.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: This Russia thing.
RESTON: Yeah. And the fact he's doing that is really troubling when there are so many other things going on in the world.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, RELIABLE SOURCEDS: And he's listening to shows that are telling him, conservative TV shows that are telling him that this is all B.S. and that he shouldn't believe it and that he's a victim here. So it's being reinforced.
STELTER: He's a man in denial.
BALDWIN: Let's put a button on this conversation.
I thank all of you. And I said it yesterday, and I'll say it again, we just have to keep digging.
Another big question, did President Obama (sic) obstruct justice in this firing? The serious new concerns after his revelations during that TV interview.
Plus, we'll talk more about the so-called loyalty test. I'll talk live with Trump's biographer who calls him today in a CNN opinion piece "little boy president."
I'm Brooke Baldwin. This is CNN's special coverage.
[14:34:53] BALDWIN: Just in, two leading House Democrats now sending a letter to the White House asking for any tapes that may exist between President Trump and the fired FBI director. As we've been talking about, the president threatened James Comey earlier on Twitter, saying he better
Meantime, President Trump firing the guy in charge of investigating his own campaign, leading a lot of critics to ask the question as far as whether the president stood in the way of justice. And the president's revelation to NBC News is only fueling that suspicion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won. And the reason they should have won it is the Electoral College is almost impossible for a Republican to win. Very hard. Because you start off at such a disadvantage. So, everybody was thinking they should have won the election. This was an excuse for having lost an election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: So let's talk legalities. Page Pate is with me, legal analyst and constitutional attorney.
Good to see you, sir.
PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Thank you.
BALDWIN: Before we dig into this, let me tick through what the Constitution constitutes an obstruction. "A definitive action with corrupt intent. Defendant wanted to interfere with the judicial proceeding, and that the proceedings were pending," still going on. And finally, that "the defendant's actions were likely to affect the proceedings."
So the question becomes, with the president's own rationale, did President Trump obstruct justice in firing James Comey?
PATE: Well, Brooke, it's not a completely simple question to answer. The bullet points you put up on the screen really relate to a particular federal criminal statute that prohibits someone from corruptly influencing an investigation. Now, some courts have said, it can be an investigation, other courts have said it actually has to be a proceeding in court. But I think, given the fact that we know subpoenas have been issued in connection with this FBI investigation, that it would qualify as an official proceeding. Then you get to the next question. Was Trump attempting to corruptly influence or impede that investigation? That's where I think we really need to know what he and Comey talked about. If he's simply asking whether he's under investigation, that's probably not instruction. But if he's giving directions and trying to keep his thumb right in the middle of it and trying to have influence on the outcome of the investigation, that could be obstruction.
BALDWIN: What about -- put the firing aside, even before then, we're talking a lot about this January 27th dinner at the White House, or it was also a couple of different phone calls where the president says that the now-fired director assured him that he was not under investigation. Is that obstruction of justice, for the president even to be asking that question, Pate? And you know, if Comey did assure him, then would Comey be acting unlawfully?
PATE: Well, I think it's certainly a violation of FBI protocols and policy. And it's no question a violation of what we expect from our president. But I don't think it's a violation of the federal criminal statute on obstruction. Because you really have to show criminal intent. You have to show that corrupt persuasion, that direct influence. Usually these cases, and we've never seen anything like this before, dealing with a president and an FBI director, usually what you see is somebody who is a defendant in then a criminal case, taking a defendant out to the back and saying, look, I want you to say x, y, and z about this case. That's clear obstruction. So we have a different set of facts that may fall under the crime of obstruction, but we have to know what was said between the two of them.
BALDWIN: Well, we just reported that those two Democrats in Congress were asking for those tapes, if the tapes exist.
Page Pate, thank you very much.
PATE: You're very welcome.
BALDWIN: Coming up next, more on our breaking news, the president's threat to James Comey, raising the possibility of tapes of their conversation. We'll talk to President Nixon's former counsel, who definitely knows a thing or two about some tapes in the White House.
Plus, a new letter from President Trump's lawyers regarding his taxes, saying he has no income from Russia, quote, "a few exceptions."
[14:43:45] BALDWIN: Just as, and perhaps, because the investigation into the Trump campaign in Russia is intensifying, the White House is now revealing new information about President Trump's tax returns. His lawyers say his last 10 years of tax returns show no income from Russian sources, quote, "with a few exceptions." They even go on to detail these few exceptions. Here you go. The 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, a $95 million estate that was sold to a Russian billionaire, and finally, that it is likely that, at some point, Russians purchased real estate, rented condos, paid for golf, books, and other Trump licensed products.
So I've got Danny Cevallos to walk through all of this, our CNN legal analyst.
And so with a few exceptions. What do you make of those?
DANNY CAVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's an interesting letter, because it starts with --
CEVALLOS: -- there's nothing going on in Russia, except for these minor little items. But in fairness, those are past profits. Things that happened in the past, 2013, 2018, and then sort of a catch-all. There may be some other things, but in the lawyer's estimations, those are minimal. I would imagine that Trump critics are not necessarily going to want to take his attorneys' word for that, even though this is a very prestigious law firm and we have every reason to think that they're on the up and up. However, that is an interesting argument to make, we've reviewed everything, there's nothing in Russia, except these things that are in Russia. And of course, that raises questions about the Emoluments Clause going forward.
[14:45:14] BALDWIN: The things are things that would have benefited Donald Trump. And you know the critics will say, hang on a second, and is anything nefarious among those things?
CEVALLOS: First, it goes as to whether or not there's a Russian connection. And then, secondarily, it goes to the issue of whether or not there's a violation of the Constitution's Emoluments Clause, which says that the president cannot benefit from foreign countries, although, scholars go back and forth on whether or not it literally applies to the president.
BALDWIN: OK. So the Emoluments Clause on that. If he did -- even if he did have any sort of direct income from Russia, would that even necessarily be cause for concern?
CEVALLOS: It could, on a number of reasons. First of all, was he obtaining -- was he obtaining money from Russia, because it was meant to somehow influence him or provide assistance or somehow affect the outcome of the election? Or even now, today, as we speak. Is he influenced by Russian interests? Which, remember, the president is the one person who can profit while he is the president. That's another separate constitutional issue that we've discussed previously. But he is forbidden from benefiting from foreign governments, receiving payment for services.
BALDWIN: Which you know people will look into.
Danny, thank you. I've got to go.
Speaking of the president, we're just getting video in of President Trump speaking at a military Mother's event with the first lady at the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And we love you very much. Very, very special people. Thank you very much for being here. So bright and festive.
It's an honor to welcome to the White House active-duty servicemembers, military spouses -- a lot of spouses --
TRUMP: -- and mothers of our men and women in uniform.
TRUMP: I especially want to thank the spouses of the military aides. And I'm dealing with them all the time, and they're incredible, incredible people, right?
TRUMP: -- who support me every hour of the day.
Rachel, Gretchen, Jessica, Kelly, stand up, please. Stand up.
TRUMP: Incredible people.
Thank you very much, great job. Really a great job you do. It's not easy, right? It's a lot of work. We appreciate it very much. Thank you.
And I have to say to all of the folks that work almost as hard -- can they work harder? I guess, maybe, a little bit, right? We want to thank you. Believe me, we want to thank you.
To all of the military families here today, thank you for your daily service to your families and equally as important to our great, great nation. And we have a great nation and it's getting stronger every day.
MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Mr. President.
Welcome to the White House.
MELANIA TRUMP: Thank you all for being here today. I'm honored by your presence, especially as we celebrate National Military Appreciation Month and Mother's Day on Sunday.
As everyone in this room knows, mother is a title that claims your heart and changes your life forever. In fact, it has been said that having a child means allowing your heart to walk around outside of your body. For the mothers of someone who has or is serving our country, this must be especially true. As you all know, I, too, am a mother. However, I have no idea what kind of different challenges each of you must face as the parent of a soldier. And while you stand with many other parents, so strong and so proud, I am sure that you sometimes march on this journey alone. While your sons and daughters are away serving so selflessly, having a community share even some of that burden must make all the difference in the world. I want you to know, you're among that community today and we are all so proud to be part of it with you.
[14:50:08] I also want to say thank you for all that you do, for your selflessness and for your own sacrifice on behalf of our country.
Let today's celebration with this community of strong and selfless moms be a first step in building the relationships and in your knowing that my husband and I, along with the vice president and Mrs. Pence and everyone here at the White House, hold you close in our hearts and thoughts each and every day.
In honor of our bravest, we have the United States Army tours and member of the Marine band performing for us today. Enjoy it. They're incredible.
In closing, I want to say, god bless our troops and the courageous men and women who are also your sons and daughters. And God bless, their mothers, for all that you sacrifice, so that your children may keep this country safe.
Have a happy Mother's Day on Sunday.
MELANIA TRUMP: God bless you and may God bless the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: First family there, speaking, addressing these military moms in the crowd, at the White House. Husband dropping in as a surprise. Again, of course, Sunday is Mother's Day. I should also just remind everyone, this is the president's first event of the week, and really only his second appearance in front of the press outside of interviews.
Another, meantime, major reversal by the Trump administration of an Obama-era policy. Today, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is calling for tougher criminal justice guidelines. He has ordered federal prosecutors to push for the toughest charges possible, wherever possible, and he wants more aggressive tactics used to put people in prison and for longer periods of time. Sessions said today that he is empowering prosecutors to do what is, quote, "moral and right."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Charging and sentencing recommendations are bedrock responsibilities of any prosecutor. And I trust our prosecutors in the field to make good judgments. They deserve to be unhandcuffed and not micromanaged from Washington. Rather, they must be permitted to apply the law to the facts of each investigation. Let's be clear, we are enforcing the laws that Congress has passed, and that is both our fundamental mission and our constitutional duty. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: For more perspective, I have CNN's justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, joining us; and also with me, criminal justice advocate, Jason Hernandez. His life sentence for a non-violent drug offense was commuted by former President Obama. Now he fears the Trump administration might keep people like him in prison.
Thank you both so very much.
And, Laura, to you.
The key change here, what people can be charged and how long they could end up in prison if convicted. Tell me about that.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Brooke. So the new order here is very simple, but it's significant. He has ordered all federal prosecutors across the country to charge suspects with the most serious crime that they can prove. And so the sentences here haven't changed, but the order is to pursue those charges that carry stiff penalties. And that's the major shift. And it's by no accident that the change where we'll see this the most is for crimes involving narcotics. Because under the Obama administration, prosecutors were directed to avoid charging defendants, who had committed certain non- violent federal drug offenses, that would carry those mandatory minimums, in the hopes of reducing sentencing disparities. And with the idea being that those harsh sentences should only be reserved for the worst of the worst, high-level drug traffickers. But attorney general Sessions has reversed all of those previous directives today, saying the Justice Department is only enforcing laws that Congress has passed -- Brooke?
BALDWIN: You've set it up perfectly.
OK, so, Jason, a little bit more on your personal story. You were convicted in 1998, as a drug dealer in Texas. You spent 17 total years, 17 years behind bars. And while you have now moved on to be a mentor, I understand, I heard from my producer that you are nervous just coming on national TV, because why?
[14:54:49] JASON HERNANDEZ: Well, because, you know, people ask me, what do I think about Trump and him carrying on President Obama's clemency initiative. And I jokingly used to tell them, if Trump had the authority, he would probably put me back in prison and everybody else that President Barack Obama released. Because it seems like he's reversing everything to try to make it seem like Barack Obama was never president. And I'm part of Obama's legacy. And I feel that -- I mean, he has shown the kind of target -- (INAUDIBLE) -- in our country through Twitter and other media outlets. And I fear that if I say the wrong thing about - (INAUDIBLE).
BALDWIN: Not the best connection. Let me cross my fingers. I want to hear more from you, Jason, but the connection is not awesome.
So, Laura, let me pivot back to you and say have we heard any reaction from the former A.G., Eric Holder, knowing his policies are being reversed?
JARRETT: Yeah, Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill uniformly blasted this move, Brooke, and the former attorney general, Eric Holder, who does not come out on these issues awesome, saying the policy announced today is not tough on crime, it's dumb on crime. And it's an ideologically motivated cookie cutter approach that has only been proven to motivate unfair sentences that are often applied indiscriminately. Remember, U.S. attorneys offices across the country only received this news last night, and they are the ones on the ground that are going to be in charge of implementing this new order, brook.
BALDWIN: OK, Laura, thank you.
Jason, I'm so sorry for the connection. I promise you we will get you back on, because your story is important to react to all that's happening. I appreciate you and your voice.
But, meantime, we have to move on.
Weeks after the manhunt for the -- weeks after the manhunt for the so- called Facebook killer, it came to a dramatic end in Pennsylvania. We're now hearing from the police officers who cornered the suspect, just days after he murdered a Cleveland grandfather on Easter Sunday.
CNN's Brynn Gingras has the exclusive with the officers in this week's "Beyond the Call of Duty."
OFC. MARK VAN HORN, PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE: It's a lot quieter right now.
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the first time Pennsylvania State Police Corporals Mark Van Horn and Aaron Davis have returned to the stop where they helped stop a cold-blooded killer.
OFC. AARON DAVIS, PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE: When Mr. Stevens was allegedly until our area and on the loose, everyone was concerned.
GINGRAS: For two days, the entire country looked for Steve Stephens, a Cleveland man who killed a 74-year-old stranger on Easter Sunday, then posted video of the horrific shooting on Facebook.
VAN HORN: I thought of the fact that he had already taken a life and bragged about taking many others. And for all intents and purposes, was going to take more.
GINGRAS: On April 18th, an alert employee spotted Stephens at this area McDonald's and called 911. That McDonald's was directly across the street from where Davis was on a break.
DAVIS: We saw the vehicle, the white Ford Fusion drive by. And so, obviously, we were trying to catch up to him. He pulls over and we start pulling behind him.
GINGRAS (on camera): What were you thinking?
DAVIS: If he's giving up, I don't know if he's giving up like he's going to surrender or giving up like he knows this is the end of the road and that he's not going to go peacefully. He was very much still a threat to everyone around him. Right as we're about to come to a stop, he takes off again.
GINGRAS (voice-over): The chase continued for two miles. Corporal Van Horn had joined in and made the quick call to end the pursuit.
VAN HORN: I shot out around these guys and had an angle on his vehicle and I hit the back left corner of his car with the front of mine and spun him around.
GINGRAS: It's a tactical move called a PIT maneuver. And in 20 years on the job, Van Horn says he's never had to rely on it. But with the help of Davis boxing Stephens in, the chase and nationwide manhunt ended. Through all of the commotion, authorities say, Stephens took his own life.
VAN HORN: I think it was his intention to die that day. Whether by his own hand or by ours.
DAVIS: When it all ended, there was that sense of relief.
VAN HORN: I know the family wants closure. We would like to have apprehended him, as well.
DAVIS: I try to remind myself of the human side of all of this. And that it's my job, but I still have feelings, too. And my heart goes out to those folks.
GINGRAS: Brynn Gingras, CNN, Erie, Pennsylvania.
BALDWIN: Hour two. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me on this Friday afternoon here.
We've got breaking news because, moments ago, the White House denied President Trump threatened FBI Director James Comey, the man who was in charge of investigating the president, the president's campaign, any possible ties the to Russia, until he fired him three days ago. Today, the president sent out a barrage of tweets. One of them including, quote, "James Comey better hope that there are no," quote, "tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."
Now, here is what Press Secretary Sean Spicer just said in the briefing today. And take note of what he would actually not comment on or what he would not explain when it comes to conversations between the president and Mr. Comey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did President trump record his conversations with former FBI Director Comey? SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I assume you're referring to the tweet. And I've talked about --